by Bill Mous
“We gather here this afternoon with heavy hearts and cherished memories of a beloved church and congregation that has had a profound impact,” began Bishop Michael Bird in the last homily that would be preached to the parish of St. George’s in Homer.
The parish’s final worship service took place on Sunday, January 14, 2018, marking the end of over two hundred years of Anglican presence in the area.
The church, its original cemetery, as well as the nearby bridge over the Welland Canal are largely what remain of the once thriving village of Homer.
“I have had amazing things happen during my time at St. George’s,” said Churchwarden Susie Keller.
Her sentiment was affirmed by Bishop Michael, who invited the congregation to imagine all the prayers, services and ministries that have transpired during the parish’s long and faithful ministry.
He told the congregation, “today we will leave here with great thanksgiving for all these things, but we will not leave without many tears as well.”
During the final service, the parish was formally disestablished and the church building deconsecrated and returned to common use.
The Reverend Dorothy Hewlett, St. George’s Rector, called the parish’s legacy bittersweet.
“It feels bitter because our church’s ministry has to conclude. It feels sweet because the parishioners and I feel honoured to be a small part in this church’s long history of people and priests dating back 225 years to its pioneer founding in 1792.”
She added that “as resurrection people we know that God will continue to work in the church, which is really the people of Christ Jesus.”
Churchwarden Bill Smith intends to move to St. George’s sister parish, Christ Church McNab. Others are still processing the closure and will try a few parishes out before making a decision.
Over the last decade, the people of St. George’s have been discerning their future. The arrival of a letter from the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation in 2014 proved to be a pivotal moment for the parish.
The letter stated the Seaway had deemed the land on which the church building stood to be surplus, and they no longer intended to lease it to the parish as had been done since 1961. After many meetings and much discussion, the parish felt it was not in a position to purchase the land.
St. George’s was also involved in a 22-month discernment process with 10 other Anglican congregations in the Greater St. Catharines area. The recommendations arising from this work are being implemented with an eye towards a revitalized Anglican presence that is better equipped to respond to God’s call for the church.
All of this led to a special vestry meeting in June of last year.
Of the 22 people in attendance, 20 people voted in favor of disestablishing the parish.
This decision was approved by synod council last fall and affirmed by Bishop Michael.
When the lease expires (March 2018), the building and property will be turned over to the St. Lawrence Seaway Corporation.
It’s been a difficult journey according to Dorothy but one, she says, that was undertaken “with integrity and God’s love.”
The Reverend Canon Bill Mous is Director of Justice, Community and Global Ministries for Niagara Diocese
A brief history of St. George’s Homer
1792 Church of England missionary priest, the Reverend Robert Addison, was the circuit or itinerant priest who opened ministry in this Niagara area. United Empire Loyalist farmers from New York State settled, farmed and built a log chapel at Upper Ten Mile, along Ten Mile Creek, later called Homer.
- 1792 Burial at Ten Mile Creek in cemetery beside the log chapel.
- 1792 Two baptisms also recorded by the Reverend Robert Addison.
- 1874 Second church built.
- 1913 Third, most beautiful church built of Grimsby sandstone quarried locally.
- 1961 Church and local farm land expropriated by Department of Transportation to build the QEW Skyway overpass.
- 1962 Fourth and final church built on land leased from the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation.
- Late 60s St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation discussed ending church lease if a fifth Welland canal were to be built.
- 1970-71 The Corporation decided that a new, wider canal will not be built.
- 1988-90 St. George’s attempted to buy back lease land but was refused by the Corporation. Lease continued until 2016.
- 2014 The Corporation announced that the land’s owner, the Department of Transportation wanted to sell all leased lands. St. George’s obtained a lease extension to early 2018.
- 2017 April 2 – St. George’s celebrated the 225th anniversary with Bishop Michael and Susan Bird.
- 2017 June – A Special Vestry passed a motion to stop church ministry on December 31, 2017.
- 2018 January 14 – Bishop Michael returned for this service of disestablishment to return the church to common use.
- 31 Rectors served this church.
Prepared by the Reverend Dorothy Hewlett, who was the second woman Rector of St. George’s Homer and served in that position for 14½ years before its closing.